Things don’t seem to be moving along expected lines for the BJP in Bihar this time as the party will need to struggle hard to be in power or anywhere near it. First, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a key NDA ally with a strong support base among a section of Dalits, decided to go it alone in the election. Then, four of its ‘star campaigners’ including Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP’s election in-charge for Bihar, landed in the hospital after contracting COVID-19 midway through the poll campaign. And, finally, the BJP has been forced to toe the line of the opposition Grand Alliance headed by RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav.
For the past several elections, the BJP had been setting an agenda for the elections in Bihar. This time again, it tried hard to bring the issue of lawlessness, or what it calls ‘jungle raj,’ during the 15-year regime of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) headed by Lalu Prasad.
However, the party has been forced to rework its poll strategy with Tejashwi’s job offer to the youths having been well received by the masses.
“This is not an empty promise to lure voters but my commitment. If the RJD is voted to power, a decision about filling up 10 lakh posts lying vacant in various government departments will be taken in the very first meeting of the Cabinet,” Tejashwi told a media conference on September 27, announcing how this was going to be his party’s main poll campaign theme this time.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar—who has been projected as the NDA’s CM face for the state again—was the first politician from NDA camp to mount a heavy attack on Tejashwi for making this announcement.
“These days, some people are saying they will give 10 lakh jobs to the youths but from where will they bring money for the purpose? Will they bring it from jail or will they do it through fake currency notes?” Nitish asked at an election rally in Bihar, in an oblique dig at Lalu who is currently serving a prison sentence in Ranchi in connection with fodder scandal.
If that was not enough, Nitish’s deputy and senior BJP leader from the state, Sushil Kumar Modi too jumped into the debate saying salary payments of government employees cost the exchequer ₹52,734 crore and another 10 lakh employees would entail an additional burden of ₹58,415 crore, which means the state will be spending over Rs1.11 lakh crore on salary alone.
“If the RJD-led alliance spends this much on salary, how will they meet the expenses on pension, students’ scholarships, cycles, uniforms, mid-day meal, farmers’ subsidy, infrastructure and electricity,” Modi said.
Interestingly, the BJP, which initially questioned the opposition’s job offer has now itself promised to provide 19 lakh jobs to the youth if voted to power. The party made this announcement in its election manifesto released by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday.
Of the total 19 lakh jobs it claims to provide, the BJP talks about directly recruiting only three lakh teachers and one lakh doctors and paramedical staff. The rest of the jobs, it claims, will come up by developing IT hubs, making women self-reliant through self-help groups, and by creating a supply chain of vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants in the state.
But, the move has left the BJP under fire as the people are not ready to believe the party which failed to give 2 crore jobs to youths every year, credit ₹15 lakh in bank accounts of every citizen and bringing ‘acche din’ (good days) for the nation. The people also asked as to how the BJP could provide 19 lakh jobs to the people when it failed to do so during the past 15 years when it was part of the government.
“The U-turn in the BJP stand explains the party is under tremendous pressure to focus its campaign on basic issues, rather on emotive ones. This is the first time that the BJP has been forced to toe the RJD line,” said political commentator D.M. Diwakar.
“We find the BJP going back to the real issue in the poll campaign and also promising 19 lakh jobs to the people of Bihar but the fact is that none is going to take the BJP claim seriously for two reasons. Firstly, it promises jobs to youths in a bid to compete with the RJD and secondly, they are making the promises after staying in power for 15 years. So, who will believe them,” asked Satyanarayan Madan, a commentator.
Unemployment as key issue
Observers say the unemployment situation has turned very alarming in Bihar after the COVID-induced lockdown and that is the reason it is a key poll issue. “A June 2020 report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey says unemployment is growing at the rate of 30.9 per cent among Bihar youths; the May 2020 report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy says unemployment rate in Bihar has touched 46.6 per cent; while the Azim Premji University COVID-19 Livelihood survey says lockdown has left 46 per cent jobless, of which 58 per cent are Dalits and backward classes,” Madan added. He said unemployment became the issue because the victims of unemployment this time are Dalits and the poor.
According to an estimate, more than 30 lakh migrant workers returned to the state after losing jobs as a result of the lockdown although the official figure put it around 20 lakh. As per an official report, there are around 25 districts in Bihar out of its total 38, where migrants are in impressive numbers—ranging from 40,000 to over one lakh. Of them, two districts, Madhubani and East Champaran, have more than one lakh migrant workers; while in four districts, their population is more than 80,000.
Key points of RJD manifesto
These are the key points in the RJD manifesto:
- Will end contractual system in job and implement ‘equal pay for equal work’
- Will give 10 lakh government jobs to the people of Bihar
- Will end application fees for government jobs and competitive examinations
- Will ensure 85 per cent reservation for Bihari residents in government jobs
- Will carry out appointment of grade three and four employees on priority basis
- Unemployed youths up to 35 year of age will be given an unemployment allowance of ₹1500 per month.
These are the key points in the RJD manifesto:
- Will appoint three lakh teachers
- Will give jobs to One lakh people in health department
- Will try to create 5 lakh jobs by developing Bihar into IT hubs in the next five years
- Will create 10 lakh jobs by creating supply chains of vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants across Bihar
- Will make One crore women self-reliant through self-help groups and micro-finance